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February 21st, 2012
05:00 PM ET

Santorum and Satan - the devil is in the details

Editor's note: Tune in Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET for the last presidential debate before Super Tuesday, the CNN/Arizona Republican Party Debate hosted by John King. Follow it on Twitter at #CNNDebate and on Facebook at CNN Politics. For real-time coverage of the Arizona and Michigan primaries, go to CNNPolitics.com or to CNN apps or the CNN mobile site.

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - A 2008 speech by Rick Santorum at Ave Maria University is making waves this week, in large part because Santorum said Satan had his sights set on America and the country was facing spiritual warfare.

The speech came at the beginning of the academic year at the Catholic university in Florida.  At that point, the 2008 presidential campaign was in full swing.  Then-candidate Barack Obama had recently made a statement about abortion and the issue of deciding when life began, which he said was above his pay grade.

Santorum was using the devil-tinged language after explaining Obama's position on abortion.  He quoted Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, North Dakota, who said at the time, “Catholics who support so-called ‘abortion rights’ support a false right, promote a culture of death and are guarded by the father of lies."

"This is not a political war at all, this is not a culture war at all, this is a spiritual war," Santorum said, according to a recording of the speech on the university's website. "And the father of lies has his sights on what you think the father of lies, Satan, would have his sights on.  A good, decent, powerful, influential country, the United States of America."

The speech gained a new life this week when it surfaced on the website Right Wing Watch and was then picked up by the Drudge Report and a host of media outlets.

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"If you were Satan, who would you attack?" the former U.S. senator asked the students.  "There's no one else to go after other than the United States, and that's been the case, for now, almost 200 years."

Santorum went on to explain how he thought the devil had attacked the United States in several areas: its foundations, academia, the Protestant Church and government.

Asked about the speech on Tuesday, Santorum offered no apologies. "I’m a person of faith. I believe in good and evil," Santorum told CNN in Arizona.

"If somehow or another because you’re a person of faith and you believe in good and evil is a disqualifier for president, we’re going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president," he said.

"If they want to go ahead and dig up old speeches to a religious group they can go right ahead and do so," Santorum went on. "I'm going to stay on message. I'm going to talk about the things Americans want to talk about."

In his 2008 speech, the Catholic Santorum said that Satan had relatively little success attacking the founders and the foundation of the country. But time, like an acid, wore away America's great institutions, "using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition," he said.

Santorum said Satan was first, and most successfully, attacked academia.  Once academia fell to pride and its own truths, he said, the Protestant Church fell next in the United States.

"We look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country, and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it," he said.

From there, he turned to U.S. culture, lambasting the National Basketball Association, rock concerts and movie sets. "They are peacocks on display, and they have taken their poor behavior and made it fashionable," which he said was further evidence of spiritual warfare.

Also fallen to Satan: politics and government, he said.  Specifically, Santorum highlighted a 2004 interview with then-state Sen. Obama did with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Shortly after Obama won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, he sat down with Cathleen Falsani in one of the few extended interviews he has done about his faith.

"What is sin?" Falsani asked Obama.

"Being out of alignment with my values," Obama responded.

In his Ave Maria speech, Santorum seized on this point. "So now we have the first truly post-modern presidential candidate. Clearly, explicitly defining his own reality," he said.

But the reporter who conducted that interview with Obama said Santorum is mistaken.

"Mr. Santorum is conveniently ignoring the fact that was not the opening question I asked him, nor was it the only question I asked. I asked what did he believe, and he articulated his faith and prayer life," Falsani said.

"We had talked about his born-again experience. [Obama's] values are based on his historical Christian faith.  He wasn't talking about, 'whatever I feel like is right in my reality,' " she said.

Falsani said the Santorum-implied dig - that Obama has his own definition of sin outside of traditional Christianity - was wrong. "The answer came in the specific context of having just articulated his Christian faith," she said.

In response, Falsani posted the full transcript of her interview with the president on the Sojourners website, where she now works as Web editor and director of new media.

But what stirred the media and the Internet the most was the notion of all-out spiritual warfare. It made easy fodder for late-night comics.

"If Rick Santorum is the commander in chief, he will do what no other president has had the courage to do: declare war on hell,"  satirist Stephen Colbert said on "The Colbert Report" on Monday night.  "It's simple: All we have to do is take our nuclear missiles out of their silos and put them back in upside-down."

At the time of the speech, Santorum was two years' removed from political office and not running for anything.

Sources who have known Santorum for some time told CNN that this is who Santorum is. He sees the world in black and white, good versus evil, they said.

A big difference between this speech and what he had talked about publicly before, according to some who know him, is that during this time frame, he was out of office and didn't have people with political antennae around him to pull him back from such stark rhetoric.

While his speaking about the devil in a political context may be considered a candidate no-no, Stephen Schneck, a political scientist from Catholic University, says consider the crowd.

"Ave Maria is a unique place," Schneck said. "They are very orthodox in their Catholicism and conservative in their politics."

Donning the language of spiritual warfare can score points with the crowd.  "In some very conservative Catholic circles, that language resonates," he said.

"What he's saying, it's certainly not any heresy," said Father Tom Reese, a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center.

"It's the language some preachers would use that conservative Catholics would be very comfortable with. Is it the kind of language theology professors at Catholic universities would use? Probably not. They would likely see it more metaphorically," he said.

"He's well within the tradition," Reese said of Santorum's talk of spiritual warfare.  Though he added,  "When he starts applying those definitions to specific politicians, those are his own judgments, not the judgment of the church."

As for the candidate today, an aide issued a one-word statement on the flap: "ridiculous."

CNN's Dana Bash and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Politics • Rick Santorum

soundoff (1,820 Responses)
  1. TRH

    "This is not a political war at all, this is not a culture war at all, this is a spiritual war,"

    If there IS a war, Rick, it's against YOU and your ilk...those who wish to impose irrelevant and invalid religious dogma and demagoguery into politics and government in the 21st Century. The rest of the civilized world is laughing at us Rick....because of YOU. You are pathetic.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  2. Geoffrey Hamitlon

    This guy scares me!

    February 21, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • devin

      Let's see, believes in strong family values, fiscal responsibility, pro-life, limited government, actually believes and defends his faith..., yeah, real scary stuff.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Fire And Brimstone

      devin

      Let's see, believes in strong family values,
      * pops out kids like a pez dispenser, but the rich can afford it.
      Wants to outlaw contraceptives, and ban gay rights.

      fiscal responsibility,
      * Pork barrell king when in congress.lobbyist, sucking the money teet.

      pro-life,
      * Only during conception, couldnt give a dang about the kid after its born.

      limited government,
      * accept what happens in your bedroom and your wallet.

      actually believes and defends his faith,
      * lies through his teeth while wrapped in a bible.

      YES, SCAREY STUFF !

      Rich arrogant Washington insider.
      No thanks.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      And in all probability the next President if the United States

      February 22, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  3. nocarenomore

    You are either genetically Christian or genetically something else. at least twelve percent of America is genetically something else.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Brad

      I guess I'm curious. What gene(s) are involved?

      February 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  4. oh brother!

    Rick Santorum, a Christian Clown in the Pope's Imperial Court

    February 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • spirituality

      This is a personal spirituality issue, it is not a public affair issue. It is personal religious faith. I am a Chinese Christian and I hold that view too. But I don't impose them on others. I don't discriminate your "secular values", you should not. All enjoy religious liberty. Please respect Santorum's personal faith and I have not seen him imposing on the public. The Puritans– Founding fathers held similar views too. I hold similar view on the church I go–it is a protestant church. Real christian faith understand this. If you are not, respect our religious liberty

      February 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • LanceR

      I remember the outraged media cries of racism and bigotry every time some onehinted at questions Obama's faith. Where is the outrage now? There are 1000's of the "tolerant" calling catholics and christians every evil, rude BIGOTED name in the book on this and 1000 other stories. Where is the outrage. What's that you say? The Tolerance is a ruse? who knew...

      February 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  5. Tam

    He sure doesn't speak for most Catholics. Not all of them are as nuts as he is.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • UsaChristian

      Please do not attack His Holiness Graham. He is my God. His father helped my dad convert to Christian faith. We would like him to be relevant politically. Every President needs to bow before Graham. Someone called Him out for double standards. No way, He will never have double standards. How dare? He is Holy, treats everyone the same. Please do not call him a racist. He serves people in Islamic nations. May our Lord bless Him. Let Him speak His mind.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • spirituality

      I am a college professor for many years, hardly had I heard that comment "nut" for others' personal faith. by the way, my last name is also "Tam", has been in the State for more than 40 years.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  6. Troy

    coo coo

    February 21, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Darrin

      We've got to get Santorum to play the preacher dad on Foot Loose. No dancing, listening to that Rock and Roll and certainly no talking to boys. Everything's evil!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  7. Willie

    All presidents have to show some type of religious affiliation to gain the trust of American voters. The difference is this clown actually believes it!

    February 21, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  8. Barclay De Tolli

    Santorum spent 16 years in Congress but has nothing to talk about but his religious heresy. What an abject idiot. President Bush looks like a genius comparing to Santorum.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  9. david

    Scripture says "by their fruits you shall know them." When Santorum couldn't admit he said he didn't want to improve black people's lives by giving them other people's money, even though the tape recording, taken together with the context of what he was saying , clearly shows that he said black, then that's dishonesty, that's lying, something that his christian faith should have informed him about. Truly, by their fruits you shall know them.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  10. Muneef

    To: myweightinwords

    Thank you so much for your most valuable and unforgettable post...good night

    February 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  11. fsmgroupie

    It just gets better every day. The " Frothy One" is lubing up his sheep for the kool-aid party.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  12. gasface49

    ...Santorum is measuring all Catholics again't every other religion...He deosn't like Omama's Rev Wright and the Baptist religion-He doesn't like the following; Lutherism, Anglicans, Fundamentatlism Christiamity, Pietism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Holiness movement, Greek Eastern Orthodox, Protestantism, Arryrism Church, and many move. The one movement thats not named is the one Romney and Huntsmen belong to. Santorum, I hope, divides the republican party. He's the head of the "War again't Hell Movement". HE'S NUTZO!...

    February 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  13. J.W

    So why would a protestant want to vote for this guy either? He thinks Protestants aren't even true Christians.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Darrin

      My thoughts exactly. Santorum has always seemed like a nice cream puff but no substance and certainly no real contender for the presidency. His views are WAY out there. Obama would trounce Santorum like the New York Giants would to a high school football team.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  14. AES123

    Oh no! Rock concerts and movie sets! Don't forget the school dances, Ricky!

    February 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  15. smc

    In my Christianity, the people who put Jesus on the cross, or committed any other sins, can confess and be forgiven. In Santorum's "Christianity", anyone who uses birth control or has an abortion or is gay goes straight to hell.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  16. J.W

    Basically if you are anything but a devout Catholic you might as well be a Satanist according to this dude

    February 21, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  17. Willie

    General X: "President Santorum, a full scale nuclear attack has been launched by Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan. The first missiles will enter American airspace in 90 seconds. What should we do?
    President Santorum: "Let's all hold hands and bow our heads for a moment of prayer..."
    BOOM!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  18. D.B.Cooper

    Because the U.S. was founded as a conservative Catholic country . . . Sanorum probably has wet dreams at night about rounding up all the non-believers. Nobody escapes the Santorum Inquisition!

    February 21, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Its chief weapon is...

      February 21, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      ...insanity.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      **** Because the U.S. was founded as a conservative Catholic country ................

      Try reading American history.
      This is an ignorant statement.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Guantanamo ain't full yet. President Rick Santorum ! Get all your left wing, commie, pansy, atheist crap out of your system before November.We will miss you guys .

      February 22, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  19. John

    Funny, I don't recall the Founding Fathers ever saying anything about Satan.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Catholic

      Let's keep in mind that this particular speech took place at a Catholic University. He should atleast be free to express his views openly in that forum, even if you don't like what he says and don't think he should be saying it as part of the political process.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I don't care where it took place.

      I think it's great this clod is effervescing his hatred and loathing of all who don't believe what he does. It bodes well for Obama.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • Darrin

      And Ahmadenejad's exterminate Israel speach took place to his own people, big deal, when somebody says something totally crazy and fundamentally destructive, it's still dangerous.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • badlobbyist

      Well sure Catholic – He can say whatever he wants. If he went to a KKK meeting he could say whatever he wanted to there as well. But if he is going to be POTUS he has to own up to what he actually says and beleives.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      Because he said it at a Catholic University,
      he can have free speech, but i cant ?
      Freaking amazing.

      Catholic

      Let's keep in mind that this particular speech took place at a Catholic University. He should atleast be free to express his views openly in that forum, even if you don't like what he says and don't think he should be saying it as part of the political process.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  20. pelegrim

    Beyond the universe there is nothing and within the universe the supernatural does not and cannot exist. I wouldn't ever put my political trust in an individual who believes such silly nonsense.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Catholic

      Most presidents were Christian...only about 10 of them did not associate with a religion or did not believe in a religion. Obama was a member of the United Church of Christ for 20-some years. I guess that means you have never voted.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.